When I was younger I thought the bigger the horse, the higher the jump, the faster the pace, was better, every time. There’s a lot to be said about learning as a child: you have few inhibitions about throwing yourself into something with gay abandon, your fear levels are pretty low and, in general, you pick things up quickly. But you are also, understandably, on a mission to show everyone – your peers and instructors just how grown up and capable you are. Going back over things you’ve already done, or not hitting the highs of jumping or fast rides every time can feel frustrating. I recall it well myself and see the same now in my children who are learning to ride at Lavant Equestrian.
Having horse riding lessons as an adult is liberating in the sense that you have more life experience to draw on, and less to prove. An example of this is the understanding you have of your body, how it moves and responds. At the beginning of a Yoga class, I hang forwards and the tips of my fingers brush the floor. By the end of class, I can put the back of my hands on the floor and stand on them. Bendy indeed. This progress is a result of warming up my body, listening to it and responding accordingly. And so it is with riding, progress will change from lesson to lesson, some days you’ll cover more than others. It’ll depend on a myriad of factors from both you and your horse, and that’s okay.
This week I rode beautiful grey named Cedric, a more forward ride. Much like us, horses don’t bend or balance very well if they’re feeling stiff and up-tight. Using the first 5 – 10 minutes to stretch out, warm up and find ease is really important. I’ve come to really enjoy this part of the riding lesson as I catch up with my instructor and make observations and adjustments in preparation for the lesson ahead. After riding Popcorn three weeks in a row, familiarising myself with Cedric’s longer paces took me a little while. Being slightly sharper, he responded to the lightest of commands which is great fun when you’re feeling confident in the saddle.
‘We have a large section of well trained horses to suit all abilities. Our members enjoy riding a range of horses to improve their skills and confidence; equally many enjoy having the same horse each week to build that special bond.’ Lavant Equestrian
Building on the success of last week, my coach planned another jumping lesson. We didn’t set the world alight and tackle a tricky course of show-jumps, but what we did cover led to deeper insight and understanding. I completely misjudged one approach meaning Cedric and I had a comically messy landing but I wasn’t unseated or unnerved as we’d worked hard on the foundations in this and previous one-to-one lessons. After we’d had a good laugh at my style, or lack thereof, I did it again, this time with a smidgeon more finesse. Phew. If anything, the experience showed me just how much confidence I’d gained and the skills I’ve brushed up on over the past five weeks.
We all have something we do when we’re concentrating and/or nervous don’t we? Mine is forgetting to breathe – not helpful when I’m performing in a singing trio, nor riding a horse, or at any time come to think of it. Apparently, it’s a common issue for riders. My instructor kept reminding me to breathe as I was whizzing round the indoor arena. Each and every time I did, I found more ease in the saddle. Breathing is grounding. Slow, deep breathing triggers a cascade of positive changes within the body, the opposite to the ‘fight or flight’ response our bodies are more familiar with as we cope with everyday stresses of life. It also relaxes the body, which makes it supple, improving balance, stability and connection between horse and rider. I’ll have more of that. And some more of the childlike enthusiasm which is only gaining pace within my heart for all things equine. Roll on next week.
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